This article with our Founder & CEO Hanna first appeared in the Bloomberg Women’s Community Newsletter, June 2016.
What made you leave your job in investment banking and set up Fearless Futures?
I was an investment banker for 6 years. While I really enjoyed my job and found it intellectually stimulating, I had discovered over the years that the problem I was truly committed to solving was that of gender (in)equalities.
How did you come up with the idea?
Fearless Futures runs equalities and leadership development programmes for girls in school and women and men in the workplace. What makes us unique is that we explicitly support interrogation of the system, placing structural inequality at the non-negotiable centre of our work. We use gender as a pathway to explore race, class, sexuality and ability, because, to quote Audre Lorde “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, as we do not live single issue lives”. We offer multi-week programmes in schools and the workplace that develop grass-roots movements that take forward transformative agendas of equality within organisations through growing leadership that does not reproduce inequalities. I came up with the idea because I was frustrated with the mainstream narrative that “leaning in” was the major way of changing the world, which implied that if women only engaged in more positive thought and “dreaming big” that somehow it would all work itself out. Such a “girlpower” philosophy also implies that all women are the same and that women “naturally” know how to be allies to other women just because they are women.
What are you trying to achieve and why?
A world in which all people are free to show up as their whole selves, who can live in dignity with respect. Why? Because nothing else is good enough!
Sheryl Sandberg’s influential book Lean In was meant encourage more women to take on leadership positions. Do you think she identified the root cause of why so few women are in the highest positions at companies and government and offered good advice?
There have been a number of critiques of Sheryl Sandberg’s work – notably by bell hooks
and Nancy Fraser
– and my critiques draw heavily on this thinking. In short, when we encourage women to “lean in” we implicitly place the burden on women to change, rather than changing the structure of the world, dismantling sexism and asymmetrical power and privileges to ensure all people can show up fully as themselves and receive the support they need to do so. Her book is silent on class and race. Which means that she erases the considerations of women of colour and working class women (and the two together). I think it has little value for effective, deep and meaningful social change and rather becomes a short term manual for a certain, very narrow group of women.
What can people really do to promote change? What are the biggest challenges?
The first and major challenge is that with all issues that are complex – you need to educate yourself and spend time getting to understand the problem. We need to understand “how” they remain so persistent in order for how us to begin individually and collectively unlearning inequality. Giving ourselves new ways of thinking about the world, how we see it and how we are within it. Educating yourself on these issues of sexism, racism, classism and so on is essential. It means getting uncomfortable, looking deep within yourself and being courageous.
Do you think engaging men is crucial to improving equality for women? If so, how does that work?
I think men are crucial to creating a gender just world, but I believe it is the responsibility of men to engage men in this. Just as I believe it is the responsibility of white people to engage white people in understanding the privilege that whiteness affords them in society, so too do men need to work among men to recognise, acknowledge and seek to challenge the way that society affords you privileges for being a man. This is why our work with men in the workplace is led and facilitated by men through our brilliant partnership with The GREAT Initiative. It’s important that men have the space to deconstruct and assess the role that masculinities play out in their life and how that connects to other parts of their identity (race, class, sexuality, ability). It’s also about moving from thought to action. It’s all very well for any person to say, “I stand with [insert group]” – but if you don’t speak up for them in their absence, ask that group “How can I best support you?” and “What do you need?” and be an ally on the frontlines; it’s sort of meaningless. For any person committed to change, deep self-awareness of how you contribute to the problem is essential – because we are all involved in everything. Only by starting with that foundation, can you then engage in the day to day practise that can begin to shift our collective culture.
Who inspires you?
bell hooks (Black Feminist academic and practitioner)
Alicia Garza (one of the co-founders of the #Blacklivesmatter movement)
Fatima McCloskey (my mum)
Alongside loads and loads of women doing incredible work that I know and stand with such as one of the co-Founders of Birdsong
(Sophie Slater) who is also one of our Trailblazers and Founder of Mazi Mas